Poor snow conditions everywhere but in the east and a poor economy did not dampen enthusiasm or attendance at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, held Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Total attendance was reported at 13,648 with 650 exhibiting companies. Retail stores in attendance numbered 2,266 with registered buyers totaling 4,376. The whooshing sound heard after the show opened was the result of a collective sigh of relief from OR expo managers, who could confirm that 2003 numbers were 25 percent higher than the Orange County experiment and disaster of 2002. SNEWS has always maintained that 2002 was a blip on the radar screen and should not be counted. So, we flipped back to the 2001 attendance of 16,164 as a more accurate representation of market changes and a better bellwether of show health. And while numbers are down slightly from that record year -- 15 percent -- it appears as if Winter Market is in good health and primed for continued success. In 2001, OR enjoyed visits from 3,326 retailers with 5,266 registered buyers in attendance. That year 791 companies exhibited. It is worth noting that while the show in 2001 was larger, many folks told us they felt it had gotten too big and longed for the days of the show under one roof, in one hall. All got their wish this year.
Noticeably absent from the scene were the major Nordic companies which did not attend OR for the second winter show in a row. We don't expect to see the likes of Rossignol, Fischer, Atomic, Alpina or Karhu back in the OR show, as SIA seems to be working just fine along with a healthy supplemental dose of regional demos.
Quite a few booths noted much higher energy and buyer interest than was typical at a Winter Market, quite possibly because with the Nordic companies not here, buyers were able to focus on other companies and products. Time and again we heard exhibitors telling us they were having one of their best shows ever. We also heard repeated praise for the smaller size of the show and the positive energy that filled the halls. SNEWS concurs and tips its hat of respect to the OR staff for an excellent show.
As expected, the first two days of Winter Market were humming. Aisles were full and booths bustling. Day 3 began to taper and Day 4 began to resemble a library in places. Though it is hard to get numbers to substantiate, we do suspect, and many retailers who contacted us both before and after the shows lend weight to our belief, that a large percentage of retailers attended two days of SIA and followed that up with a two- or three-day Winter Market chaser. Because the show began on a Friday, quite a few retailers who only attended OR arrived Thursday night, worked the show all day Friday and Saturday, then bugged out and back to their stores on Sunday. Our man on the airport scene on Sunday reported packed afternoon departures with OR attendees.
SNEWS begins an abbreviated Winter Market overview below, but look for continued coverage looking at the specific market segments over the next several weeks.
Where the markets meet
One of our SNEWS team rode a shuttle from the airport with a gentleman from a company in Oregon that doesn't sell any products into the outdoor market, and yet he told us coming to Outdoor Retailer each year was considered essential for him. Why? He books a full slate of appointments with suppliers to source material for products he makes for the golf and ski markets. "There is no other show we know of where you can find all of the leading suppliers of technical fabrics and notions under one roof, so this is where we come each year. It's a great show for us."
The SNEWS team loves its Icebreaker and SmartWool garb, but we have to be honest here. Could it be that one of the primary reasons wool is getting so much attention of late is because consumers are hopelessly confused by all the high-tech gibberish and promises that failed to deliver from the synthetic wizardry front? Couple that confusion with some slick marketing campaigns about the wonders of merino and the evils of synthetics and we expect you'll continue to see more people jumping on the retro bandwagon. In truth, for the average consumer, wool offers solid performance characteristics and the new merino is a heck of a lot softer and less odiferous than the old stuff. Still, we caution the wooly fans to watch the hyperbole. Claims that sheep produce fibers that are greatly superior to modern synthetics are, well, bordering on the ludicrous.
Overused and overplayed
In at least a half dozen booths, purveyors of product information were using the same terminology to describe their latest offerings. "Like buttah" crept into many sales pitches to describe the ultra soft hand of some of the new fabrics used on high-end jackets. Yes, they really do feel nice and smooth but puhleez! Butter?
Another common refrain, said with a wink and a nod, from several manufacturers of waterproof/breathable shells was, "breathes better than XCR." Most of these companies offer the premium Gore product as well as their own proprietary fabrics. Frankly folks, we don't want to hear it unless you can back up the claims with some lab data. Telling the media (and presumably retailers) that your lab has done the tests but can't release them is just blowing smoke. If you want to claim it, back it up. If not, then zip it. Enough said.
There are always free handouts of "nutritional" products in the aisles at OR. The latest hype comes from SportLegs, a marketer of a product claimed to buffer lactic acid buildup during exercise. As usual for products of this ilk, there is very little science to back up the claims or, we admit, even refute them. While taking a pill that is essentially made of magnesium and calcium isn't dangerous, there's no convincing evidence that it's effective either. True, for those who are electrolyte deficient, the pills might help, but who's to say? Of course, there are those who will also argue that if you believe the pill is good for you, then it is good for the mind, and they may have a point there too. We do know of one show-goer at SIA who was swearing by the stuff as "saving his aching show-beaten legs."